DARTMOOR’S iconic ponies are increasingly falling victim to car collisions, with the start of 2023 being one of the worst periods in recent memory, according to the park’s livestock protection officer Karla Mckechnie.

Most collisions are also going unreported, as drivers fail to report collisions on the moors, leaving the animals in horrific states and reducing their chances of recovery.

As Dartmoor’s livestock protection officer, Karla spends her life up on the moor, working with the Dartmoor Livestock Protection Society and the Dartmoor Commoners’ Council to look after the National Park’s animals and respond to reported injuries or deaths.

‘I’m on hand, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for any emergencies or welfare issues for livestock, said Karla. ‘My priorities are road traffic collisions, dog attacks, and any other welfare issues that come up on the moor.’

Although the issue of roadkill is not new to the moor, the rate and scale of this year’s collisions have shocked Karla.

‘I’ve never had so many ponies hit in such a short time. I had seven ponies hit in eight days. I’ve never had such an intense week. Five of them either died or had to be put down, which is rough. I also had two sheep hit as well, which makes it nine animals hit this side of the year so far.

'That’s not even an accurate number. Dartmoor’s a big place and we don’t know about all the others that were hit, crawled off and died. That’s only the ones that get reported to me.

Animals are drawn to the roads for many reasons, mainly to get food from tourists. Currently, the draw for them is eating the salt in the grit spread on the roads, which lasts over time in the cats-eyes.

While the reason why animals are drawn to the roads is understood, Karla is shocked at how often collisions are not reported.

‘We live in a high animal welfare standard society, but people are still prepared to leave an animal down and dying without doing anything about it. It absolutely beggars belief. How could you hit an animal like this, and just get in your car and do a runner?

'I had a call out to one last Saturday morning, where a friend called me to say she’d seen a dead pony just a few meters from the B3212, near Bennett’s Cross. I got other there, you could just see a lone figure just lying there with a totally snapped back leg, with a load of Vauxhall car debris. So they’d clearly just smashed into it, and just driven on.'

After seeing many animals end up with the same fate, Karla has two messages: drive to the conditions and report any welfare issues immediately.

‘There’s a blanket 40mph limit on the moors, but if you hit a pony, even at 30, it’ll be very serious. ‘You’ve got to drive to the environment, to the conditions. But even then, we often find that more animals get killed on clear nights because people put their foot down.

‘Dartmoor is for everybody to enjoy, but ultimately it’s a working landscape. It’s the home for animals and birds to graze and flourish and live in safety. They don’t know there are roads, but they have a total right to be living there, so drive with awareness and to the conditions of the road.

‘If you do hit anything, you must report it, even if it’s an anonymous call. Just phone it in and say you’ve seen something. It’s just so unnecessary. It’s abuse. You can’t leave an animal suffering like that.

‘Phone it into me. I’m on call 24 hours a day, I always pick up the phone, but if by the off chance I don’t, I will always ring it back. There’s no need. It’s so unnecessary to leave something down and injured. I’d rather have someone call me and it’s a load of rubbish than not have a phone call at all. No matter what, just call it in.'

Karla is on call 24/7 for hurt or dead livestock, her phone number is 07873 587561.